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Winner could lose in school closure

Teachers' jobs threatened by primary merger. Nerys Lloyd-Pierce reports

Wales's primary teacher of the year could be out of a job within a couple of years of receiving her Plato award. Park Street infants school in Abergavenny is closing, following a strategic review by Monmouthshire county council, and acting headteacher Pam Roberts and her colleagues face an uncertain future.

Ironically, it is her dedication and good humour in the face of the closure threat that helped Mrs Roberts win her title at the Wales teaching awards this month.

Despite fierce opposition from parents and governors and appeals to the Welsh Assembly government, the school will close in 2006 when its 100 pupils will join those at nearby Harold Road junior school. Until the axe falls, though, it is business as usual.

"We all think it's important to keep morale high for the sake of the children," she says. "Their welfare always has and always will come first.

"We fought to keep the school open as that's what the community wanted, but we lost the battle. It's my belief that smaller schools are preferable to larger ones. For infants starting school for the first time the transition is easier if they are coming to an intimate, homely environment."

The precarious climate generated by the amalgamation of the infant and junior school is not easy to deal with, however.

"It's a time of uncertainty. None of us knows if we will have jobs when the schools join up, as essentially there will be more teachers than posts," admits Mrs Roberts.

"I feel that it's my duty to help keep the atmosphere positive and happy.

The staff here want the best for the children so they are still giving 100 per cent to the job."

In an admirable display of multi-skilling, she fulfils the role of acting head while still taking classes and covering for the school secretary who recently suffered an accident.

"I suppose I'll realise how hard I've been working once it all stops," she laughs. "When I took on the acting head role, I decided that I couldn't give up teaching my classes as I love the hands-on aspect of the job best of all."

Under Pam Roberts's leadership, many elements of the school have been invigorated - the parent-teacher association among them - helping to boost funds for extra resources for pupils.

Pop quizzes, discos and visits from theatre groups help create a fun ambience and expand pupils' horizons. And children are also taught to respect the natural environment. The school grounds house a wildlife pond and a water feature that runs on solar power.

The first-ever school vegetable plot (fertilised by their own compost bin) is also flourishing. The hope now is that there will be enough sun to ripen the crops before the end of term. If not, they will still have had fun.

"Humour's a vital ingredient in getting through life," says Pam Roberts.

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